UNITED NATIONS —
The transition team of President-elect Donald Trump has picked South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to serve as his U.N. ambassador.
Haley, a frequent critic of Trump early in his bid for the presidency, rose to the national spotlight when she led efforts in 2015 to remove the confederate flag from South Carolina state buildings after the massacre of black worshipers at an historic Charleston church.
In a statement on her website, Haley, 44, said she had agreed, pending Senate confirmation, to serve in the U.N. post.
"When the President believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed," Haley wrote.
Nikki Haley is Indian American and is the first non-white woman or person of color to be named to the president-elect’s cabinet.
When she delivered the 2016 Republican Party response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address, Haley said “some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference...That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume.”
Trump responded to those comments by calling her "weak" on immigration.
While Haley is not well known in international circles and does not have the foreign policy experience most U.S. ambassadors possess, diplomats and analysts welcomed her nomination.
“In my previous position as France’s ambassador to Washington, I had the pleasure and opportunity to meet with Governor Haley,” France’s U.N. Ambassador François Delattre said. “We had a very good contact. She is a highly regarded, very respected professional.”
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters “she will bring to the U.N. a strong track record of achievement from South Carolina, and I know that the U.K.-U.S. relationship will continue to go from strength to strength.”
Israel’s U.N. envoy, Danny Danon, issued a statement saying Haley "is a longstanding and true friend of Israel and is an outspoken fighter against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement in her state, and throughout the U.S.”
U.N. Spokesman Farhan Haq said leaders of the world body “are aware of her laudable comments against racism in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina shooting.” In that 2015 shooting, a white man killed nine black worshipers at an historic Charleston church.
U.N. expert Richard Gowan, an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University, described the selection of Haley as "a deft pick." He said many U.N. officials had feared a return of John Bolton, who held the job in 2005 and 2006, or someone with similar views. Bolton famously once said that the U.N. headquarters in New York “has 38 stories. If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference."
Bolton, who served as U.N. ambassador under President George W. Bush, is still believed to be under consideration for the post of secretary of state.
Haley was elected governor of South Carolina in 2010 when a wave of "Tea Party" Republicans were swept into office across the country.
“She has a reputation of being fairly conservative,” said Robert Oldendick, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina. He noted that she has “in most estimations, done a fairly credible job as governor” and easily won re-election.
Not much is known, though, about her foreign policy views.
She tried to stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees in her state based on security concerns over the vetting process. During the presidential campaign, however, she criticized candidate Trump for proposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
Her position on a key U.N. issue — climate change — is unclear. She has criticized a clean-power initiative, saying it would hurt job creation.
At the U.N., she will have to negotiate resolutions and diplomatic deals with tough and experienced envoys, including those from Russia and China. She governed South Carolina with a Republican majority in her state legislature, so she was not forced into too many political negotiations with an opposing party.
“I think it would be a mistake to underestimate her and to think that she is just going to be not able to compete in that arena," Professor Oldendick said, "because every challenge she has had to this point in her political career, she has been able to meet it."
But the analysts agree that Haley will have a steep learning curve in learning to deal with a raft of issues confronting the U.N. — including the war in Syria, terrorism, conflict and hunger in Africa, the global refugee crisis and climate change.
Gowan said he would advise the governor to get some on-the-ground U.N. experience before taking up her post next year, perhaps by visiting a peacekeeping mission in Africa or a refugee camp in the Middle East.
“Republicans tend to think of the U.N. in ideological terms, philosophical terms, but this is an organization that has hundreds of thousands of officials on the ground in horrible, horrible circumstances and Haley should try to get a minimal grasp of what they are doing,” he said.